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January 05, 2009

George Lambert: Anglo-Australian Painter

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

If possible, I write about artists whose work I've seen in person rather than in reproduction. That doesn't apply for George Washington Thomas Lambert (1873-1930), born in St. Petersburg of an American father and English mother, raised in Australia, studied art in Paris, spent much of his career (1902-21) in London and finally returned to Australia. One reason why I haven't knowingly seen his paintings is because much of his work is in Australia.

I fact, I'd never heard of him until I bought this book, the catalog for a show at the National Gallery of Australia.

Wikipedia, a source I usually use to link for biographical information is sketchy on Lambert, as you can see here. There is a book about him and his son and grandson who attained notoriety in other fields (see links towards the bottom of the Wikipedia entry for more information about them). For now, this link will have to do.

Here are examples of his work.


Self-Portrait - 1907

The Red Shawl (Olave Cunningham Graham) - 1913

The White Glove - 1921

Helen de Vere Beauclerk

King Edward VII - 1910


Sybil Walker in a Red and Gold Dress - 1905

Important People - 1914

Miss Alison Preston and John Parker on Mearbeck Moor - 1909

The Sonnet - c.1907

A few thoughts, keeping in mind that this is based on seeing reproductions and not originals.

Given that most of the paintings shown above were done around a century ago, I find it interesting that they tend to be quirky from a psychological standpoint. They are almost the respectful society portraits and allegorical scenes one would expect of Edwardian era -- but not quite. Nor are they "edgy" in the 21st century postmodern sense -- yet there's a hint of it in some of the poses and settings.

Lambert's style is crisp, but not fussy. For what it's worth, I'm not normally much fond of "hard edge" realism. But his work doesn't fall into that category; rather, it's "painterly" -- one can see the brush strokes, particularly in the backgrounds.

A rule of thumb many painters follow is to slightly blur and strip details from most of a painting's surface, leaving sharper edges and details for a focus point. This is similar to how we see things; a small area is in sharp focus and the rest isn't quite. But note that Lambert reverses this formula in a couple of the works displayed here. Sybil Walker's face and the face of the woman to the right in The Sonnet (probably Australian painter Thea Proctor) seem smoother and perhaps a little more blurred than the rest of the surface. This contrast of sorts would be a reverse-means of focusing attention.



posted by Donald at January 5, 2009


Interesting point about the reverse focus. It hadn't struck me that way till now. Lambert certainly doesn't do the expected thing. In the popular "Across the Black Soil Plains", the dirt and dark coats of some of the horses, combined with shadow, dominate in a most unexpected way. Without these massive negative effects the picture would be a horizontal monotony: as it is, I find it superb.

Lambert seems to be doing odd things and conventional things at the same time. Is he kidding a bit with some of his portraiture? I really don't know, but I enjoy much of the it.

Some years ago I was visiting a Sydney friend who had stopped "struggling" as an artist and opted for the day-job. He was showing me some fine sketches from his youth, when he was under the tutelage of Desiderius Orban. Then he pulled out his inspiration: a simple Lambert sketch he had somehow acquired. It was a gem. As I discovered since, Lambert was strong in black-and-white.

As an Aussie landscaper, Lambert enjoys a rep somewhat below that of Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton (of the plein-air Heidelberg School)...but I really enjoy Lambert's hurried realism, for lack of a better expression. Maybe you've nailed it with "crisp, but not fussy".

Posted by: Robert Townshend on January 5, 2009 5:09 PM

beautiful hands

Posted by: Bradamante on January 5, 2009 9:20 PM

There really is something to his faces, isn't there? You said: "I find it interesting that they tend to be quirky from a psychological standpoint...Nor are they "edgy" in the 21st century postmodern sense -- yet there's a hint of it in some of the poses and settings."

Yes. There's a knowing quality in his faces, somehow in the subjects themselves and not just in how they're painted (does that even make sense? But dagnabbit, I'm right!). I find myself wanting to talk to them, as if I expect they'll turn around and talk back at me...and not necessarily say very nice things. Those women look particularly formidable.

Very interesting find.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 5, 2009 9:28 PM

Sybil Walker in a Red and Gold Dress has problematic hands. In fact, one of them looks awfully squid-like. Otherwise, she looks like my mother.

Posted by: Larry on January 7, 2009 5:14 PM

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